Freshwater ecosystem champion Dr Mike Joy has been awarded the Callaghan Medal by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.
Joy, from Paekākāriki, was among a group acknowledged by the society in its Research Honours Aotearoa 2023 awards held in Government House and presented by Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.
He received the medal for his research on the decline of freshwater ecosystems, the quality of drinking water and sustainable management of freshwater ecosystems and food production, and for communicating the science to inform public opinion on these issues.
“It’s nice to get recognition, and vindication, from the Royal Society because the people who I p... off – the agriculture industry mostly and the Government – make me out to be crazy.”
Joy’s interest in environmental protection started in earnest in his early 30s when he went to Palmerston North’s Massey University, where he gained various qualifications and became a lecturer.
“I had been brought up as a Kiwi believing we lived in this clean, green paradise.
“But as I started to do research for my masters and PhD, I was monitoring rivers all over New Zealand and started to realise it was the total opposite and we had some of the worst pollution in the world.”
After Massey, he became a senior researcher at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington before being made redundant earlier this year.
However, the Morgan Foundation has funded a five-year contract for him to work in the university’s geography, environment and earth sciences department.
Joy’s concern for the environment and humanity hasn’t subsided.
“We’re screwing ourselves and are in major ecocide mode. People don’t want to have less, they always want to have more.
“It’s really hard for people to get their head around the fact this is an aberration because, 99.9 per cent of the time humans have been around, we haven’t lived anything like this. We’ve pushed everything so far.
“Climate gets all the publicity but it’s only one of the many crises. We’ve fished out all the oceans, we’ve chopped down most of the trees, there are multiple overshoots. I’m starting to think it’s the cult of capitalism and we don’t even know we’re in it.”
Joy, who is helping Ngāi Tahu as it takes the Crown to court over freshwater management in the South Island, is among a group of people who have started Degrowth Aotearoa.
“It’s about managing our way down rather than waiting for the crash which is inevitable ... and then you get to a balance where we can live, but it’s a long way from where we are at the moment.”
To help him de-stress, Joy has a go-to escape in the form of a 91-year-old kauri yacht called Medina.
“That’s the sanity, the refuge, the therapy – to work on the boat and go sailing.”
Going for walks with his partner, the clinical psychologist Alli Hewitt, and their 7-month-old German shepherd, Clifford, helps a lot too.
In 2013, Joy won the society’s Charles Fleming Award for environmental achievement.